On whether phone makers should block text-driving

Road accidents are rampant, these days. They cause catastrophic injury and death. One of the causes of road accidents is when the driver does not pay attention to the road. Most of the time, the driver is distracted by their phone. Yes, their mobile phone.

It could be because they are accessing their social media, they are talking on the phone, or they are texting.

Apparently, phone manufacturers, notably Apple can prevent people from using their phones dangerously while driving. But according to the New York Times, they have not done so.

And how do we know that phone manufacturers like Apple have the capability to block text-driving? It all starts with a sad story:

It is an ordinary day. It is April 29th, 2016. Sandra Jones, 63 (the driver); Sheri Standard, 62 (the passenger); and Sammy Meador, 6 (the other passenger) are on board an SUV is travelling northbound. On Highway 43, she stops to make a left turn. At that point, the SUV is hit by a Dodge pick-up which was also traveling north, and a Ford pick-up which was travelling South.

Sandra Jones and Sheri Standard are pronounced dead on the scene. Sammy is seriously injured.

Ashley Kubiak, 21, is driving the Dodge truck. At the time of the collision, Ashley Kubiak “was looking down at a text resulting in a collision where she turned a vehicle into oncoming traffic causing death and horrific injuries”, said Rusk County Attorney Michael E. Jimerson.

Kubiak was sentenced to 180 days in jail, probated. Judge Guy Griffin set her probation to five years.

Following this suit, Apple is being sued by the victims’ families who claim that Apple knew its phones would be used for text messaging but did not do anything to stop the driver in the crash from texting with her phone while driving, according to the New York Times..

Allegedly, Apple has a patent for “lock-out mechanisms” which was granted some time in 2014. The patent makes provision for super-hero-kind-of-status by apple since the technology is “designed to prevent texting while driving, but it has not deployed it,” the article said. The technology does more than prevent text-driving. It disables the driver’s phone functionality of making and receiving phone calls without a hands free device.

The invention achieves its purpose by using motion sensors and the phone camera to identify when a person is in a moving car, and when they are in the driver’s seat.

But wouldn’t this be a violation of user’s privacy? Not if the users consent to its use.

Without looking at what phone manufacturer can do, it is right to presume that mobile service providers like MTN, Safaricom, Airtel, and Vodacom can also stop texting-driving if they wish to.

Whether it is enough for phone manufacturers to warn users against the dangers of text-driving or making and receiving phone calls while driving, is an issue to also consider. Whether all the test of reasonableness can be used to dispel liability on the part of apple is also another issue to consider. – Would a reasonable person know that using their handset while driving may cause an accident?

And does Apple owe its users the duty of care? Yes it does. But to what extent is that duty of care supposed to be discharged?

Let’s wait and see what the court will decide.

For now, keep safe. In our jurisprudence, you many not well claim that Apple or Samsung or Techno or Huawei owe you a duty of care, to keep you safe on the road.

Do not use your phone while driving.


This article appears in our weekly digital magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 6, Issue 5 of October 30th, 2016

To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE


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